An Executive of a large global company recently asked me a great (and super meta) question after recognising the value of coaching his team: how do I ask better questions?
Here’s a version of what I shared back:
If you remember only one thing let it be this: always be curious (ABC). The best question to ask is the one based in a genuine curiosity of wanting to understand more. It’s like improvised comedy. We can wait to hear what has been shared and then respond to the part we’re most curious about.
Ask one at a time
Have you ever had the experience of listening to an interview and the interviewer asks multiple questions at once? They’ll say something like:
“So what are you excited about right now? What are you working on? What’s capturing your attention? Is there anything that comes to mind? Because I heard you’ve been doing some kayaking, is that true? I’ve been kayaking before, it’s quite challenging isn’t it? I would love it if you could share…”
What? Where does one even start?! Instead, take the opposite approach, ask one question at a time.
Avoid binary questions
Binary questions are those that can be answered with either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and tend not to be conducive to uncovering possibility. Instead, ask open ended questions. So instead of: are you okay? Try: what’s on your mind? Instead of: Do you agree with this approach? Try: How would you solve this problem?
Don’t steal the revelation
When asking questions it is possible you’ll hear someone start to answer and try and guess where they are going. You will pre-empt their thought, revelation or aha moment. When this happens, be patient and remain silent (or throw in an “…and what else?” if you really can’t help yourself). Let them get there themselves. As the brilliant Paul Jun would say: don’t steal the revelation.